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When Your Ex is a Narcissist

So you’re no longer romantically involved, but you can’t cut all ties.  Let’s say you have a child together, or property, or some other link that can’t be easily severed.

Here are some thoughts on how to best keep your sanity through it all.1)  Know your buttons.

The narcissist sure does, and he/she will try to push every one of them.  Because that’s how that person is used to gaining control/influence.  It’s how they got their needs met in the relationship.

The way you can counteract that is to be entirely self-aware as you enter each interaction.

2)  Stay calm in the moment.

Do not show the narcissist that he/she has gotten to you.  Do not feed the tiger.

Think of behavior modification when your child was having tantrums.  If you gave in, then the child would continue having tantrums, because they were effective.

You don’t want the narcissist to feel he/she is winning by getting under your skin.  Also, the more upset you are, the harder it will be to formulate a good response.

3)  Plan ahead.

Realize that while the narcissist knows your buttons, you also know his/hers.  Be strategic.  Anticipate the moves before they happen.  Often, there are a lot of variations on the same one move.

For example, if your ex tends to argue with you about money and you need to approach him/her about an expense, anticipate that it’ll be an argument.  Don’t be optimistic; be a well-prepared pessimist.  Assume that what’s happened before will happen again, and this time, you’re ready for it.

4)  Have back-up.

That could be the emotional support of friends and family.  It could be having a witness with you to hear what’s being said.  It might be a legal authority (the court, a lawyer, a child advocate.)

Accountability is key with a narcissist.  You have to figure out what that accountability looks like, and be consistent in applying it.  The narcissist can learn, but it’s not through empathy for you.  It’s through consequences.

You might not want to pay for an attorney’s time every time your ex pushes you, but realize that’s what the narcissist is counting on.  Your ex knows you don’t want to have those battles and is trying to wear you down.

5)  Practice good self-care.

Because this is a war, and not just one battle, you need to focus on how to keep your energy up.  You need to think about sustaining long-term things you can do (the obvious ones being diet, exercise, time with people who love you, yoga or meditation or some other stress management practice, and visits to a therapist.)

Eventually, all divorces are settled.  Eventually, all children grow up.  Remember that the narcissist’s control is illusory, and finite.  You already did the hardest part.  You loved yourself enough to get out.



When Your Ex is a Narcissist

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2015). When Your Ex is a Narcissist. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Jan 2015
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